Johnny Marr is urging Donald Trump to cease using The Smiths' songs during his campaign rallies. The guitarist of the iconic British band responded to a video showing Trump featuring their song "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" at a South Dakota rally in 2023.
The song in question (which may seem an odd choice for any political rally, let alone a Trump rally):
Expressing surprise at the situation, Marr took to X [what most people still call "Twitter," as "X" is unbrandable] stating, "Ahh…right…OK. I never in a million years would’ve thought this could come to pass. Consider this shut right down right now."
Trump has been utilizing "Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want" as a warm-up track for crowds before his rallies, including one in Laconia, New Hampshire. A writer for Politico EU jokingly wondered why Trump doesn't go with another well-known, aptly-titled Smiths song: "Bigmouth Strikes Again." More seriously, it's part of a pattern. Trump has faced objections from various artists, with The Rolling Stones, Linkin Park, John Fogerty, Neil Young, Rihanna, Pharrell, Steven Tyler, and others issuing cease and desist letters due to the unauthorized use of their songs at his rallies.
Johnny Marr's decision to urge Donald Trump to stop using The Smiths' songs at his campaign rallies reflects a growing trend of artists asserting control over the use of their music in political settings. The guitarist's surprise and swift response on social media, expressing disbelief at the situation, underscores the importance musicians place on their work and its association with political figures. This highlights the clash between artists' perceived rights and political campaigns seeking appropriate soundtracks for their events. To many artists, and certainly also to many fans, it makes a difference if a song is associated with a cause or party they do not agree with.
The Smiths are clearly not alone
Marr's firm stance, declaring, "Consider this shut right down right now," signals a determination to protect the integrity of The Smiths' music from being associated with political ideologies without consent. The New York State Bar Association notes that the unauthorized use of songs at political rallies "has become so pervasive, especially during election seasons, that it is not unusual for one single politician or political campaign to face multiple copyright claims from multiple copyright owners." As musicians increasingly exercise their rights to control the use of their creations, the intersection of art and politics remains a contentious battleground, where artists like Marr are actively shaping the narrative surrounding their work.
Of course, there's another frustrating dimension to all of this: If you want to do the right thing here, all you have to do is ask for permission to use songs for your event, be it political or otherwise. In the case of Donald Trump, he already has some musicians on his side, be it Ted Nugent, Kid Rock, or Vanilla Ice, or assorted country stars who (whether we like it or not) would clamor to get into Donald Trump's good graces.
For Trump (or anyone else) to just use anyone's music without a care indicates just that: A carelessnes, or casual disregard for right or wrong. Meanwhile, as hyper-polarization takes things to greater extremes, it becomes only more pertinent that people either ask permission first or consider using music in the public domain, Steamboat Willie-style.